POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT DEFINED
The term “Positive Reinforcement” is used throughout the dog training world. While it seems like a straightforward concept, it’s rare to find a trainer or dog training company who fully understand and apply the concept throughout all stages of training. Positive reinforcement comes from B.F. Skinner’s theory, operant conditioning. Operant conditioning utilizes four quadrants: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, and negative punishment.
The best way to understand Skinner’s theory is to start with the first word and then include the second word of each quadrant. Positive (+) means to add whatever the second word is. So, positive reinforcement is adding reinforcement and positive punishment is adding punishment. Negative (-) is the same as removing whatever the second word is. Negative reinforcement is removing reinforcement and negative punishment is removing punishment.
The next step to fully understanding operant conditioning is realizing what the second word of each quadrant means. Reinforcement is used to increase or maintain behaviors. Punishment is used to decrease behaviors.
A great example of utilizing each of the four quadrants is training a dog to stop barking:
BALANCED DOG TRAINING DEFINED
A balanced training approach used by dog trainers incorporates positive punishment and negative reinforcement methods alongside themes established by positive reinforcement. The variance of how heavily positive punishment is utilized, or the types of punishments used will differ from trainer to trainer. When performed correctly, positive punishment can produce desired results in a short amount of time.
As the public’s opinion continues to move towards a negative view on the use of shock e-collars, a lot of pet owners and dog trainers alike have decreased its use. In fact, many countries have banned shock collars due to the misuse of them. Because of my background in working with high drive dogs in both the military and civilian sectors, I believe they can be an effective training tool. However, only if they are used by a professional dog trainer who has experience with their utilization and understand all the negative results than can occur from just one misuse of the device.
MY INTERPRETATION OF POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT
In a lot of situations, I self-admittedly take longer to train a dog than other dog trainers. It’s not because I lack the understanding of different ways to speed up the learning curve, it’s because I have witnessed too many examples of a dog regressing and becoming worse off than it was prior to training. Sometimes this regression is only months after being trained and sometimes it takes years. I interpret positive reinforcement training as not just teaching a dog a behavior or command, I strive to change a dog’s entire way of looking at the world.
Dogs want nothing more in life than to please their human family. All we have to do is show them what pleases us. Through positive reinforcement methods and clear communication, we can help our dog reach its full potential and understand our expectations. For whatever reason, my ability to be patient with a dog reaches a level beyond comprehension. The transfer of this patience and understanding to humans is an ongoing process that I’m improving every day.
To be an effective trainer, you must be flexible and have the ability to change methods with each situation. That doesn’t mean you go from being nice to being mean. An experienced trainer will have multiple ways to approach a deficiency. The key is when to show the dog you disapprove of a behavior. This cannot be done until the dog has an understanding what “right” looks like. Then, the use of negative reinforcement can be utilized. Techniques include ignoring the dog, stop walking, not giving it a treat, not giving eye contact, or by ceasing positive talk. The goal is for the dog to perform behaviors because it knows that’s what its human wants. If a dog lives with this attitude, it will do anything for its human while living a happy and loving life.
APPLYING POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT TO REAL LIFE
As we begin to build P.A.W. Service Dogs from the ground up, creating the organizational culture required for my vision is a top priority. Since a company’s culture begins at the top, it’s on my shoulders to lead by example and show our future employees, supervisors, and volunteers the expectations. The entire philosophy is centered around positive reinforcement. We are going to utilize the principles I teach our trainers to train dogs…and mirror them with our leadership styles.
The desire to please and feel appreciated doesn’t just apply to dogs, people also wish to receive attention for doing well. Instead of having an employee handbook full of disciplinary actions for incorrect actions, why not place the emphasis on achievements? I understand the requirements will forever be required for policies pertaining to equal opportunity, harassment in the workplace, and other labor laws. But if we create a working environment where this is frowned upon and unacceptable by the employees themselves, they will do the policing and rejection of illegal or unethical actions. They will shut it down before there is even a chance for it to gain steam, and that individual will be singled out immediately.
You are going to make mistakes just like a dog makes mistakes. If a dog doesn’t put itself or someone else in harm, I will be patient until it displays what I am looking for and then show it praise. Allowing someone to make mistakes and learn from them will foster an environment of strategic thinking and independency.
WHY I PREFER POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT OVER BALANCED DOG TRAINING
My first experience of the term ‘balanced dog training’ came from a supervisor at a well-established and highly reputable company that trains Service Dogs. A question was asked why we use a certain type of collar, and his answer was because the company utilizes a balanced approach. I was confused and conducted research on the meaning and how it’s used.
After gaining an understanding of balanced dog training, I understood why this company uses it and actually believe it’s their only avenue of approach. The patience and time to properly utilize positive reinforcement methods is not reasonable for an entity or trainer who is pressured to train a certain number of dogs in a set period of time. That’s why P.A.W. Service Dogs is going to create a paradigm shift in the dog training world. We aren’t going to train dogs like an assembly line.
The primary reason I prefer positive reinforcement over balanced dog training is because the use of anything other than positivity when introducing a dog to a new behavior is a form of cruelty in my opinion. How can anyone expect a dog to conduct the correct action if it does not know what correct looks like? The thought of punishing a dog while it’s conducting its own trial and error just trying to get the punishment to stop is disgusting. Positive reinforcement creates change for the better…in dogs and people.
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